In the early 1960’s, then Col. Spurgeon Neel, commander of Lyster Army Hospital at Fort Rucker, Ala., recognized that an expanding Army aviation community would need specialized medical and physiological support to help close the gap between Army combat aviation needs and human capabilities, and to protect aviators from altitude, climate, noise, acceleration, impact, and other stressors in a growing hostile environment.
Therefore, in October 1962, Neel and Maj. Gen. Earnest Esterbrook, then commander of the U.S. Army Aviation Center at Fort Rucker, established the U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Unit with a goal of providing direct aviation medical research support to all Army aviation and airborne activities, and to provide a central aeromedical research and reference library. Technical evaluation of aircraft and personnel equipment, aeromedical in-flight observations, and field problems analysis reported by other aviation agencies were also part of the Unit’s early research program.
In 1969, as USAARU’s involvement in air mobility research grew, the Army re-designated the unit as USAARL.
In May 1978, ground was broken for a new laboratory facility, with completion in March 1981.
During the 1980’s, USAARL scientists and support staff became increasingly involved in field studies throughout the Army in assessing hazards of military systems and operations, and biomedical means of enhancing Soldier selection, performance, and protection.
In 1990, USAARL was honored with the Department of Defense Award for Excellence. For its support and contributions to Desert Shield/Desert Storm, USAARL was awarded the Army Superior Unit Service Ribbon in 1992.
In April 2004, USAARL was dedicated in memory of Maj. Gen. Neel for his integral role in the development of the principles of aeromedical evacuation of battlefield casualties.
Over the past 50 years, USAARL has been involved with most medical aspects of vehicular occupancy, airworthiness testing, air safety, occupational hazard exposures, and personal protective equipment. In addition, USAARL has researched topics such as vibration, jet lag and fatigue, tinnitus, helmets, visors, night vision goggles, seats and restraints, and spatial disorientation.
According to lore, the USAARL emblem was created in the early 1960s to establish the newly created USAARU’s identity. The distinctive unit insignia was designed by several researchers and a graphic artist.
The staff entwined with the one serpent, originating in mythology, is symbolic of medicine, healing, and life-giving powers. Maroon (sanguine) and argent (silver or white) are the colors used by all Army medical organizations. The Army symbol, a star, is depicted by the letter “A” and the silver flight surgeon wings, which symbolizes flight and aviation medicine. Gold and black are colors associated with Army Aviation.
The sciences studied at the Laboratory are represented by the Greek letter “sigma,” symbolizing science and mathematics, and the Greek letter “psi,” symbolizing physics, psychology, and psychiatry.
The gender symbol, although not standard as drawn, represents both male and female contributions to science.
The symbol for infinity represents USAARL’s never-ending commitment, through research, to preserve and enhance the health, safety, combat effectiveness, and survivability of the Soldier.
The surrounding ribbon stands for honor.